glad to hear it

I don’t do politics. My British husband knows far more about American politics in the last 50 years than I do. (Before that, I have a slight advantage, having done far more American history, and having studied American religious history. But still.) But today I read a couple of articles about Mrs Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine.

Now I know that there’s much I don’t know. And I know that I don’t even know what I don’t know. And I am sure that the New York Times is likely to paint him in a good light. Still, I am finally less despondent about the presidential race. Maybe Mr Kaine is just as ambitious as Mrs Clinton (though I can’t imagine ‘more ambitious’ than Hillary). Certainly he’s flawed.  Of course he’s not perfect.

But usually I complete those online questionnaires during election seasons and find that only the crazies (you know, the people who still believe in the Marxist revolution or want to settle on Mars) fit my particular constellation of what matters. Years ago, my father lamented that I was a bleeding-heart liberal. I thought I might have a T-shirt made with that emblazoned on it, along with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. So I am happy about  a Roman Catholic who opposes abortion (yes, I know he isn’t overturning Roe v. Wade; neither am I–not because I think abortion is ok for other people, but because I think we are stuck with Roe v. Wade and the battle needs to be fought elsewhere) and the death penalty (yes, I know about his record in VA). I don’t know much, but I know enough to know that he’s not crazy, and we’re on the same side.

Maybe I will send away for my absentee ballot after all.

Advertisements

Monday of the sixth week in ordinary time

Genesis 4: 1-8 (RSV)
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten<span class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-RSV-81a" data-link="[a]” style=”box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>[a] a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.”<span class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-RSV-88b" data-link="[b]” style=”box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>[b] And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.


*           *         *


This is going to be a bit wide of the mark, I fear–not really a commentary on the verses at hand. But the thing has been pressing one me for some time, and this passage from Genesis 4 (which continues for another 7 verses in the first reading for today) calls it immediately to mind. That is, we don’t usually interpret this tragic episode in relation to what precedes it in Genesis 3. Yes, it’s the beginning of sin, and it’s amazing how quickly a little stolen fruit leads to fratricide. But it also–I believe–should be read in light of Genesis 3: 16. 

To the woman he said,
“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
    and he shall rule over you.”


My thinking about this one verse began several years ago on Christmas Eve. I was listening to the Advent Lessons & Carols service broadcast from King’s College, Cambridge, and noticed that in the reading of Genesis 3, this verse was omitted. Maybe it was just a mistake on the part of the reader, though I doubt it. At the time, I wondered. Surely it can’t have been left out because it is Not Nice. Maybe it was something to do with the institution of patriarchy–maybe we don’t want to think about the imbalance of power that generally obtains in relationships between men and women (which seems to have been confirmed over the weekend, if what I’ve heard about the newly-released film is true). 

Whatever the reason for the elision of verse 16 that year, I am glad for it. Although I never did come up with a satisfactory guess about the rationale for leaving it out, I did begin to think in a new way about the first part of the curse–the business about childbearing. Yes, it hurts. I can testify to that, having had four children (even had one without the epidural). But I don’t think that’s what this part of the verse is about. In the first place, the emotional pain of  pregnancy loss seems to me to be greater than the physical pain of labor. And then there are the things that go wrong: congenital defects of the heart or other organs, genetic disorders, infant deaths. About pregnancy loss or the death of an infant, I have no first-hand experience. But I know what it’s like to have something big go wrong–or, better, to have something very small go awry (one little extra chromosome) with global effects. The pain of childbearing is increased in a fallen world: things go wrong. 

Not for a few years did I realize (probably only as my children grew) that there was still more pain to be had in the bearing of children. Not only do they give us pain as they come into the world, they continue to cause pain (as well as joy, of course) as they grow and change. Not all of the heartbreak involved in raising children is quite as dramatic as the story of Cain and Abel. But there it is. Genesis doesn’t say much about how Eve’s birth experience is. We do,  however, hear about this tragedy. Having two sons myself, I can’t imagine anything much worse than one of them murdering the other in cold blood. The pain of childbearing is increased in a fallen world: we go wrong, and badly wrong. 

For a while, I wanted to write a book about the pain of childbearing, broadened to include stories of pregnancy loss and more. The trouble was that there wasn’t really an “up” side to it. I’m looking again at a verse that’s not particularly encouraging to begin with, and saying, but really, it’s much worse than that. Hardly the makings of a best-seller, there. 

As always, though, there is much more to it than this thin slice of the story tells us. There are small hints in Genesis 3 and 4 that God will make it right: “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin, and he clothed them” (3: 21). And Eve has another son, Seth, whom she regards as being given to her by God (4: 25), and the writer notes that “At that time [people] began to call on the name of the Lord” (4:26).  In the midst of the pain, it is difficult to see how even this (whatever particular this is so vexing or agonizing) cannot fall outside of the delightful arrangement that is the work of the Wisdom of God (Wisdom 8: 1). Yet there is nothing, not even this terrible outworking of the curse, that can escape the truth: “in Him all things hold together.” All things. Most days I fall very short of believing that. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. 

Deo gratias.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“he preached as one with authority…”

.        .        .

The homily this morning was short (perfectly so, really–no time for the congregation to lose the thread) that I nearly missed it as I quieted the children. Fortunately, I managed to look up and listen just enough to catch the drift of it. Msgr Michael Heinz never said ‘Jesus changes everything,’ exactly, but that’s a crucial piece of what I came away with this morning. The thing about Jesus’s astonishing authority is that he not only says things, but what he says, happens. And so we can trust his word.

Good. Really good. Not just good to hear, but thought-provoking now, as I remember the bits of it I caught while attending to the kids. I think, yes, of course.  Jesus tells the storm to be still, and it obeys him. And Jesus is the Word, which goes forth (in Isaiah 55) and does not return empty, but accomplishes the purpose for which God sent Him. In the chances and changes of this life–and there are many for us, just now–one thing is sure: Jesus.

Makes it easier to mean “thy will be done,” that’s for certain. Thanks, Msgr Heinz.

Thursday of the tenth week in ordinary time

Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go back, eat and drink; for I hear the sound of rain.’ While Ahab went back…Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel and bowed down to the earth, putting his face between his knees. ‘Now go up’, he told his servant, ‘and look out to the sea.’ He went up and looked. ‘There is nothing at all’ he said. ‘Go back seven times’ Elijah said. The seventh time, the servant said, ‘Now there is a cloud, small as a man’s hand, rising from the sea.’
                                                                                                  1 Kings 18: 41-44

.  .  .

I imagine I am not the first person to notice that Elijah says he hears the sound of rain long before the cloud appears over the horizon. Does he say he hears it because he’s confident that it will come? Or does he have super-hearing? (I admit I am thinking of the bionic woman, which dates me.)

My question is really whether Elijah hears the sound of rain by faith. I can’t think of another way to read it–though that may just be a failure of my imagination. The failure is easily explained: about to embark on a major transition (moving back to the US for a year), I yearn for some prophetic reasurrance that the promised ‘rain’ will come. The psalm set for today (at least the passage to be read in Mass) ends: ‘The hills are girded with joy.’ I want to know that the rain will come, that the hills (not that I expect to see many hills roundabout us in Indiana) will be ‘girded with joy.’

There is a kind of blankness ahead, bare hills and sky color of diffuse light, as it is well before dawn. I suppose this is what the promise looks like: a clean white page of time, waiting for its ‘potentate’ to fill it with his brightness and colors. And so I must wait, too: go back and eat and drink, and wait for the rain to fall.